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Duke to Lobby for Carbon Tax as 'Corporate Responsibility'

Calling it a "corporate responsibility," the chairman of Duke Energy Corp. said Thursday that the company will lobby for a tax on carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions to help with the global climate change -- even though it could mean higher prices for his customers.

Speaking at the Charlotte Business Journal's 10th Annual Power Breakfast, Duke Energy's Paul Anderson said the CO2 tax "must be mandatory, economy-wide and federal in scope," and provide incentives for everyone to conserve. It also has to promote more use of power plants that are low emitters of carbon and encourage the development of new technologies.

"The greatest attraction of a carbon tax is that it allows us to share the cost of reducing greenhouse gas emissions across all sectors of the economy -- minimizing the disruption in any one area," said Anderson. "Even if science proves that climate change isn't a major problem, a carbon tax is a 'no regrets' policy that still results in less CO2 emissions and greater energy conservation."

However, Anderson acknowledges that pushing for a tax won't be easy. "You can imagine the reaction I get when I say 'carbon tax' in the halls of Duke Energy. One employee wrote me that as a shareholder, he couldn't fathom why I would advocate a position that would discourage use of our product by potentially increasing its price."

The CEO noted that from a business perspective, "it makes more sense to advocate a carbon tax...even if it costs our business more and is harder to sell politically...than to accept alternatives that fall short of achieving real results in an equitable, efficient manner."

Subsidiary Duke Power is spending $1.5 billion on state-of-the art pollution controls at its coal-fired power plants, which will result in lower emissions of sulfur dioxide and nitrogen oxide. However, the technology will not reduce CO2, and Anderson noted that there are no technologies now available to do that. "It's going to take money to develop those technologies, and their impacts will not be significant for decades."

Although a lot of the blame for CO2 emissions has been put on power plants, Anderson noted that nearly 60% of U.S. emissions come from other sources. "In other words, for the electric sector to achieve this reduction alone, we'd essentially have to shut down all of the country's fossil-fueled plants! Imagine the consequences of that to a nation that gets about 70% of its electricity from fossil fuels. We cannot eliminate the use of coal or other fossil fuels for power generation in the near-term without serious disruption to our economy."

Instead, he said that a "viable solution to global climate change must encourage reduced carbon emissions from all sources and all segments of our economy -- not just a few." While Duke has "long supported" voluntary measures, "it's clear to me now that we have to move to mandatory measures to get real results in a fair manner."

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